The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday welcomed the announcement by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, of international support worth nearly $160 million over the next three years to facilitate the increased access to vaccines for children at high risk of illness and death from malaria.
Malaria remains the leading cause of illness and death among children in sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2020, almost half a million African children died from malaria or 1 child died from malaria every minute, the WHO said in a statement after the announcement in Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo.
Since the world’s first malaria vaccine was introduced in 2019, it has been well accepted in African communities after a relatively short period, even during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, when routine health services faced myriad challenges, parents and caregivers diligently brought their children to clinics and health posts for malaria vaccinations. They know only too well that lives are lost every day to malaria and are eager to protect their children from this deadly disease, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
The WHO said vaccination performance for the first dose reached between 73% and more than 90% coverage, depending on the country, without major disruptions during the pandemic.
To date, about 1.3 million children have benefited from the vaccine in the three African pilot countries, he added.
Gavi’s new funding opportunity brings us one step closer to reaching millions more children across Africa with the life-saving RTS,S malaria vaccine, Moeti said.
Following the October 2021 WHO recommendation for widespread use of the RTS,S malaria vaccine in children in areas with moderate to high transmission of Plasmodium falciparum malaria, a number of malaria-endemic countries have expressed interest in vaccine uptake and should seek Gavi support for vaccine introduction.
The RTS,S vaccine works specifically against Plasmodium falciparum, which is the deadliest and most prevalent malaria parasite on the African continent.
Where the vaccine has been introduced, there has been a substantial drop in the number of children hospitalized with severe malaria and a drop in deaths of children in the age group eligible for the vaccine.
“Malaria has devastated communities for far too long in Africa. We know that initially supply will not meet demand, however, we look forward to working with countries and our partners to introduce and develop this new tool in our fight against malaria, which could save the lives of thousands of children across the continent,” said Thabani Maphosa, Managing Director of Country Programs at Gavi.
The long-awaited childhood malaria vaccine is a breakthrough for science, children’s health and the fight against malaria. It is predicted that the large-scale use of this vaccine could save tens of thousands of young lives each year, but we will need an increased supply of the vaccine for Africa to reap the benefits of this additional tool of malaria prevention, said Professor Rose Leke, an expert in malaria diseases from the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon, and co-chair of the expert group that advised WHO on a framework to allocate the currently limited supply in malaria vaccines.
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